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A new wrinkle for 'Dr. Who' writer

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Steven Moffat says writing for new cast members, even St. Nick, is part of the gig.

Head writer Steven Moffat has been determining the course of "Doctor Who" since 2010, when show-runner Russell Davies handed over the keys to the TARDIS and Matt Smith took over from David Tennant as the dark and madcap traveler in time and space.

He has written five Christmas episodes for the Doctor, four for Smith and the latest, "Last Christmas," for Peter Capaldi, the current inhabitant of the role. Earlier stories have made reference to Dickens ("A Christmas Carol," 2010) and C.S. Lewis ("The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe," 2011); the new one includes Santa Claus and is set at the North Pole.

Last known companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) is again aboard. Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz) plays Santa. As is traditional, there is snow.

I spoke with Moffat, transatlantically, about "Doctor Who" at Christmas and other times.

Do you approach writing the Christmas specials with any special excitement?

Steven Moffat: I always approach "Doctor Who" with excitement. Otherwise, I wouldn't still be doing it. I suppose there are extra challenges; what are we going to do to make it Christmas-y — all that stuff.

But in the end, the audience just wants to sit down and actually watch "Doctor Who." They don't want you just to turn it into a Christmas spectacular. And you have to keep in mind that some people are being forced to watch it that don't normally watch it, 'cause it's a big family event.

And you know what's like about 6 o'clock on Christmas Day — you can hardly keep your eyes open, you've been stuffing your face, you've been drinking champagne since 10 in the morning. It's the most highly sugared day of the year, so maybe it's not the time for the most intricately plotted piece of "Doctor Who" you've ever done. It's time to make it quite accessible and appropriate to the day. And it's got to have a big heart, and it's got to be a bit sentimental. But then "Doctor Who" always has those things.

Both David Tennant's first full episode as the 10th and Matt Smith's last as the 11th fell on Christmas.

Those are just things that come up in the cycle of the show. For logistical reasons, it was the right time for Matt to leave and the right time for David to leave. I'm not that in favor of killing off a children's hero on Christmas Day.

How did you decide to use Santa Claus?

It just came up as a fun idea. In Britain, Doctor Who and Santa Claus are the two big heroes at Christmas, so for them to share an adventure, just the visual of

Father Christmas entering the TARDIS, is kind of cool.

Was it different writing a Christmas episode for Peter Capaldi? His Doctor is a bit grumpier than Matt Smith's was.

Matt's could be quite grumpy at Christmas too. On paper, the Doctor never changes that much — it's the different performance. Matt Smith's Doctor was mostly cheery with a grumpy man underneath, and Capaldi's is more like a grumpy man with a cheery man underneath; but, oddly, the experience of writing a Doctor doesn't change that radically. He's the same man; he's just got a different face and a slightly different mood.

So you're writing the same character.

Very much so. It's a different version He's changed a lot, but you don't want to think that Matt Smith's Doctor just died; you want to think that he's reborn as somebody else. And you know, you've been reborn too: You're not the same as you were when you were a teenager or a toddler. You're not the same at work as you are at home. We all change. When it comes right down to it, of course, he's exactly the same; at his heart he's the same man.

Does canonicity matter?

Well, yes, provided you're prepared to embrace that some of these adventures happen twice and there are massive contradictions. But why shouldn't there be? As I once said, you can't really have continuity errors in a show that embraces the idea of changing history and parallel histories; you can enjoy all of "Doctor Who" if you want. And I kind of think you should. I think everything's canonical. Why not just say it all happened? Some of it happened twice. Sometimes he was human, sometimes he was a Time Lord. Who cares? You're allowed. Everything is equally fictional; it's a kind of nonsense to say otherwise.

Does it matter whether the timelines are logically correct, or just that they're poetically right?

All the rules of that kind of thing on "Doctor Who" are dramatic and, as you say, poetic rather than scientific or mathematical, because that's the kind of show it is. You sort of set up the world with every episode, and you stick to the rules of that episode; sometimes you break them elsewhere. But that's not how people watch "Doctor Who." In modern "Doctor Who," the British prime minister shot dead the American president on television — and no one ever referred to it again. I think if it actually happened that would be mentioned quite a lot. It would cause a moment of unease between the nations.

Santa in Who-ville

The big guy crashes the Doctor's holiday special. Hilarity ensues.

Two time 'n' space defying stars of the season face off in this year's "Doctor Who" holiday special, "Last Christmas," which airs on Thursday on BBC America.

The courtship of reality and illusion is showcased in this latest battle to save the universe, as are issues of courage, death and the one-night present-delivery system. But it's the wary dance between two holiday icons that steals the show.

The Doctor (currently played by Peter Capaldi) has fought plenty of fake Santas, but he's never come up against the man himself. Neither have we, for that matter, or at least not Santa as envisioned by Steven Moffat and played with action-hero hilarity by Nick Frost.

This Santa may have all the trappings of traditional myth — the elves, the reindeer, etc. — but his knowledge extends well beyond naughty and nice, and he's clearly been keeping an eye on the Doctor.

For very good reason too. Aside from Santa, no other character in literature has as intense and changeable a relationship with Christmas as the Doctor.

In the years since it was rebooted by Russell T. Davies in 2005, the BBC series has always included a Christmas special. In keeping with general tradition, the episode is narratively lush, gorgeously cinematic and garlanded by A-list guest stars of such cultural diversity as fiber-thespian Michael Gambon ("A Christmas Carol") and pop singer Kylie Minogue ("Voyage of the Damned").

More important, the episode can reveal big changes for the next season, which have included the introduction of new companions and the identity of the Doctor's latest regeneration.

In other words, the Doctor, a character burdened by the sins of time and space on a self-appointed quest to save humanity, is regularly reborn on the day that traditionally marks the birth of Jesus.

Make of this what you will.

The 12th Doctor, Capaldi was only just introduced last Christmas as the replacement for No. 11, Matt Smith, so everyone can relax on that front; Capaldi's not going anywhere. Current companion Clara (Jenna Coleman), on the other hand, is the focus of much speculation.

She came to Matt Smith's Doctor in the 2012 Christmas special, "The Snowman," and although companions can serve as a bridge between one doctor and the next, none has appeared as a regular costar for more than a season after that.

Make of this what you will as well; there will be no breaking of the overzealous spoiler prohibition plea that accompanied the critics' preview of "Last Christmas."

Suffice to say that although the "Doctor Who" specials often skew toward Christmas past — Victorian, Edwardian, Narnian — this one stays current and strikingly modern. Reunited some time after this year's season finale appeared to tear them asunder, the Doctor and Clara come to the aid of a group of scientists beset by monsters more sci-fi than seasonal. The action is a truly creepy and occasionally festive, a signature mash-up of humor, unease and deep thought. In honor of the day, the episode mostly occurs at the South Pole, which explains Santa, whose biggest gift to the world this year may turn out to be a fully realized 12th Doctor.

Over this past season, Capaldi and the show's writers struggled to find the newest iteration's personality and place in the Whovian universe. But as one impossible man of Christmas spars with the other, the Doctor loses the awkward brittleness that has plagued him and softens, just enough, to let Clara, and us, love him once more.

Should Clara leave the Doctor's side, for whatever reason, though I'm certainly not saying that's what happens, Frost's Santa would be a terrific replacement.

Imagine it: The Doctor and Santa taking on the great battles of the universe, maybe even finding the lost planet of Gallifrey.

Every day would be Christmas, indeed.

Caption: IN THE "LAST CHRISTMAS" show of "Doctor Who," Nick Frost plays Santa with action-hero brio. Peter Capaldi is Doctor Who. TELEVISION REVIEW

Caption: THE LINEUP for the "Doctor Who" Christmas special includes, from front left, Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost.

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  • APA 6th ed.: McNamara, Robert Lloyd, Mary (2014-12-24). A new wrinkle for 'Dr. Who' writer. Los Angeles Times p. D1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McNamara, Robert Lloyd, Mary. "A new wrinkle for 'Dr. Who' writer." Los Angeles Times [add city] 2014-12-24, D1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McNamara, Robert Lloyd, Mary. "A new wrinkle for 'Dr. Who' writer." Los Angeles Times, edition, sec., 2014-12-24
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A new wrinkle for 'Dr. Who' writer | url= | work=Los Angeles Times | pages=D1 | date=2014-12-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 April 2024 }}</ref>
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